The Channel Isles: Jersey (no, not New Jersey - think of it as this island's More Populous Spinoff), Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. Also, Herm, which is small enough to be lumped in with Guernsey. These are British "Crown Dependencies", despite the fact that they are much closer to France.
You see, this dates from back in the days when the Kingdom of England was just one small part of a large Empire ruled by an ambitious French family, the Plantagenets (a.k.a. the Angevins).note The French king didn't like the fact that one of his vassals owned more land than he did, so they went to war (The Hundred Years War... and several other wars). Eventually, the rulers of England lost all of their French territories except for the Channel Islands. And after that, the French and the English lived happily ever after and never quarreled over anything ever again.
The Channel Islands were occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. They were so heavily fortified that the Allies never attempted to recapture them; they were only liberated days after VE day. The occupation was harsh, but probably no worse than many other places in Western Europe under Nazi occupation. There was a small-scale resistance movement, and there was a daring British commando raid on Sark. The islands were ecstatically pleased to be liberated and that their evacuees could finally come home, and Liberation Day (or Homecoming Day) is a national holidaynote .
Today the islands are still littered with the remains of German fortifications, and there's at least one very good War Museum if you are into that sort of thing. The islands are also popular with tourists who like to hog the beaches (although a lot less than they used to be) and popular with anyone who wants to avoid paying taxes. The islands don't pay any value-added tax on cheap items (under £20) imported or exported there either, so online CD and DVD retailers have made a killing by locating their offices there. However, this looks set to change with the closure of the UK VAT loophole from 1st April 2012, in order to provide a level playing field for UK-based retailers. In addition, Jersey also contains a Nigel Mansell museum...above the Mitsubishi dealership run by his son.
Visitors to Jersey should note that many of the road names are in Jèrriais, which is similar but not identical to French and you can't legally drive faster than 40 miles per hour anywhere on the island. Visitors to Sark should note that cars are entirely banned; only tractors and horse-drawn vehicles are allowed.
The "British Crown Dependency" thing means that the islands are not part of the UK. Queen Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch (the only part of the Duchy of Normandy still held by the British crown); the isles are split into two different Bailiwicks (the Bailiwick of Guernsey includes Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, by the way); their parliaments do all of the day-to-day ruling. The UK government is responsible for the defence of the Channel Islands, for representing the Channel Islands on the international stage, and for the ultimate good governance of the Channel Islands (whatever that means).
Most of the fiction (and indeed non-fiction) involving the Channel Islands also involves the Second World War. There have been several documentaries on how people coped during the occupation, and several books dealing with the factual details of the occupation or stories of peoples' experiences of that time. An exception to this is the 1980s crime series Bergerac, set on Jersey. Also, the British writer John Christopher had a fondness for the islands (having lived on Guernsey for a time); at least three of his Cosy Catastrophe novels (Wrinkle in the Skin, The World in Winter and When the Tripods Came) have some of their action centered there.
In 2008, Jersey was in the news a lot (in the UK at least) because of what appeared to be the remains of a child's skull found hidden within the grounds of a former childrens' home. There were fears that there may have been an organized "child abuse ring" and that the local authorities were being deliberately obstructive and attempting to cover this up. It was a piece of coconut.
Between 2002 and 2008 the Barclay Brothersnote attempted to take over the island of Sark and rule it as their Fortress of Solitude, as covered in Private Eye. They did this by getting the old feudal system abolished and thus bringing democracy to the island for the first time. However, the islanders promptly voted (in 2008) for whoever the Barclays didn't want.
The Channel Islands also have the smallest ITV franchise, Channel Television. Until 2011, Channel was the only ITV franchisee not otherwise folded into a bigger media group (ITV plc, UTV or STV), since having been folded into ITV plc. Historically it occupied an odd place, being borderline unsustainable due to the ridiculously tiny viewership, and often escaping many of the worst strikes to hit the ITV network on the basis that any withdrawal of labour would cause the station to go under. In recent years it has been used mainly as a contractor for the other ITV companies to check through their programmes to ensure they comply with Ofcom regulations (and, handily, receive the blame if they don't do a thorough enough job.)
Famous Channel Islanders
- Lillie Langtry, the "Jersey Lily". an actress who was also one of the (numerous) mistresses of the late King Edward VII.
- Actor Henry Cavill was born in Jersey.
- Writer Victor Hugo lived in Jersey from 1852 to 1855 after being exiled from France by Napoleon III. Then he was expelled to Guernsey.
- British comedian William James "Will" Smith (not to be confused with the American rapper/actor) grew up in Jersey.
- Harry Vardon, one of the first "superstar" professional golfers with six Open Championships (a.k.a. British Open) and one U.S. Open Championship under his belt, was born on Jersey in 1870.
Media featuring the Channel Islands:
- The Others is set on a remote mansion on Jersey, a few months after VE-Day. She mentions sucessfully keeping the German occupants off her premises, after her husband went MIA during the Battle Of France.
- Both the book and film version of The Eagle Has Landed features Jersey as the base of operations of the German protagonists. Features the Irish turncoat collaborator getting into a bar brawl with some very disgruntled islanders (for four obvious reasonsnote ).
- Enemy at the Door is a 1970s historical drama series set in the Channel Islands during the German occupation. The focus is on Guernsey, with one episode on Sark, although most of the location filming was actually done on Jersey.
- Bergerac is a 1980s crime series featuring John Nettles as Jim Bergerac, a detective in the Jersey police force.
- The first mission of Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty (1998) is set in Guernsey, with the commandos having to blow up a lighthouse and Anti-Air artillery. The sea is littered with naval mines.
- The 2004 one-season ITV drama Island at War was set on the fictional St. Gregory, an amalgamation of Jersey and Guernsey. Filmed in fact in the Isle of Man, it got heavy criticism from locals.
- The 2008 historical fiction novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (the latter finished the book's revision after Shaffer passed away), which is made up of correspondence between a London author and the natives of the island of Guernsey, who started a book club to boost morale during the German occupation. It has a film adaptation, which was released in 2018.
- Wooden Overcoats is a Brit Com podcast that takes place on the fictional island of Piffling, and involves the only village's only undertaker suddenly getting competition, and not liking it one little bit.